The science of coming up with solid cocktails represents an entirely different skill set from the art of concocting genuinely creative names for them. Sometimes, they go hand-in-hand; other times, nope. We don’t mean to pick on anyone, but there’s a newish place in the Tenderloin we investigated a few weeks ago that half-assed their drinks and settled for lazily bestowing them with names ripped from the canon of Beat poets.
Anina, newly open in the Hayes Valley space that used to be Flipper’s Gourmet Burgers, has succeeded where others have failed. (The name of the bar itself is a tad mysterious. A palindrome, it seems like a Greek prefix or a five-year-old daughter of hipster parents, but it’s also a 2013 Uruguayan animated film about a child who’s given an envelope yet forbidden to open it.) You can plausibly make the case that what the 400 block of Hayes Street needs least is another fancy cocktail spot with wall sconces, but having been in, we encourage you to give it a shot (possibly by taking a shot).
Four years ago, Brass Tacks took over Marlena’s next door, transforming a much-beloved if slightly down-at-the-heels drag bar famous for its array of Santa Claus dolls every Christmas into a sleek, almost monochromatic spot with lots of anodized steel. It’s not a gay bar, but it paid more respect than mere lip service to its past by hanging on to the Santas. As Brass Tacks was next door to Flipper’s, another long-term Hayes Valley business that was increasingly out of phase with the neighborhood’s high-end boutiques and starchitecture, that space, too, was primed for a transformation in its own right. (Not that we wouldn’t strongly welcome a little more roughness in Hayes Valley. It’s just that pining for the old days is largely futile — and further gentrification around Patricia’s Green isn’t the hill to die on.)
In any event, Anina’s interior, while not the polar opposite of Brass Tacks’, feels like a slightly more DIY version of Leo’s Oyster Bar in the Financial District. The walls are painted with lush tropical flowers and hung with charming watercolors and oils of women’s faces and bodies, some of them nude, while the area behind the bar has green-and-white tiles that looks almost like maritime signal flags. In a neat trompe l’oeil of sorts, a large potted plant on one end of the bar sits immediately in front of a similar image on the wall, as if camouflaging itself from predators.
Or maybe it’s a venomous plant waiting to strike. Either way, you have your pick of venoms at this bar, where the $12 cocktails tend to be big (in intensity, as well as size). Start with a Sierra Madre, a rye-based drink with enough lemon and honey in it to ward off a stampeding herd of rhinoviruses — plus smoke and Hellfire bitters, that habanero-inflected additive that feels like it provides a second backbone to a cocktail that already has strong lumbar support. If that sounds like overkill, maybe take one step down to the wonderfully named Jinx Remover, a rum-and-maraschino combination with a strong absinthe nose and a moderate-to-strong pucker of lime tincture.
Got an itch for mezcal? The well-balanced Lucila blends that smoky spirit with lime, pineapple gum, and Pamplemousse Rose liqueur, to create something herbal and astringent with a touch of fruitiness. And by the looks of it, the Fairway (gin, celery, cilantro, lime, sugar, and salt) could be mistaken for something distilled from golf-course compost, but don’t let its green-juice appearance fool you, because it’s pretty boozy in spite of being celery-forward — and extremely refreshing.
There’s plenty more to choose from, including some vermouths and sherries, plus three low-alcohol cocktails like the Logroni (Lo-Fi amaro, fino sherry, and Cocchi Americano) or the Knife in the Water (manzanilla sherry, Dolin Blanc, and Salers aperitif), which has been on Brass Tack’s menu since it opened. There are effervescent spritzes, sparkling as a result of Prosecco, plenty of beers and wines, and three $46 punch bowls: large-format drinks meant for people to enjoy as a family. The Southern Hospitality (bourbon, black tea, peach, lemon, and soda) looks like the surest bet.
Anina’s patio is the choicest plum, especially in comparison to the occasional fight for seating at nearby Biergarten one block down Octavia Boulevard. If you’re mourning the fact that you won’t be eating a burger with chili cheese fries out there again, well, let no one tell you your grief is illegitimate — but do consider getting anina-mated out there, boozy cocktail in hand.
Anina, 482 Hayes St., no phone; aninasf.com